The Great Warrior slid his bishop all the way across the checkered board to take my queen. I didn’t see it coming. In fact, I thought I’d set a trap that would ultimately force The Great Warrior to give up either a rook or a knight, on the next move. I leaned back from the kitchen table, looked away as to hide my grin. But I turned back toward the board to see it all happen in slow motion. Then he disposed of my matriarch, laid her to rest with his collection of other dead pieces from kingdom. A few moves later, I knocked my king down in disgusted resignation – banged the table, cursed.
“Maybe we should play a game where we explain to each other our reasons behind each move,” said The Great Warrior.
“It’s a way of learning, becoming better.”
“Well, then why’d you make such a blunder as that?”
“Too many things were happening out there,” I answered, pointing to the board as if it were Waterloo. “One or two moves ahead, I can think that far. But after that, there’s too many factors. I can’t spread my brain out that far!” Bang, curse.
My exclamation came clearly from frustration and self-pity – The Great Warrior had beaten me several times this week – but there was truth to my statement. I’d had trouble concentrating all week. Morning, noon and night – day after day – was one giant mess of speedy thought. Pictures and sounds rushed in and out of my brain like ocean waves. I was aboard a helpless ship on those waters. Writing, reading, sitting through a movie were diffucult tasks. And my guitar playing was much like the chess – starting out concise and with purpose only to dissolve into manic disarray. Thought pummeled me from every direction as the minutes of each day raced by. I could only stand there at the ship’s helm – watching the wheel spin – in a state of nervios anxiety. Finally, I cut down the sails and let my mind go wherever the thoughtstorm took it. I did only what I had to do – eat, bathe, brush my teeth, fish for jobs in the internet sea.
But frustration kept mounting as the week progressed. I got desperate, I meditated – sat every morning with my legs crossed, breathed in and out, one hand in the palm of the other, stared at the wall. The morning air coming into the bungalow was cool, livened my skin. Breathe in, breathe out. I focused on the ambient sounds East Hollywood offered – a leaf blower, the glass collector, a siren, a Harley Davidson, a gate sliding open, a domestic fight somewhere down the street. The sounds faded into one dull hum growing quieter and quieter. I felt the tension ease out of my body, joints relaxed and stomach muscles settled. Breath in, breathe…damn! Every morning, as soon as I entered that formless place where meditation takes me, I’d get blindsided by frothy thoughtwaves so powerful I’d physically jerk back into this world of the labeled and named.
“I’ve been having a hard time, too,” said Luis. “There was a full moon on Monday night, that’s when it got me. But Mars isn’t in retrograde or anything like that, my girlfriend read up on it.”
The Great Warrior told me he’d been having trouble sleeping, and also had this creepy feeling that “time was running out.” I began to wonder if maybe some kind of non-astrological event was going down that made humanity drift a bit closer to the edge – perhaps a collective anxiety throughout LA. But in the many walks I took I didn’t notice anything beyond the standard edge-of-the-continent babbling madness. Besides, my fits of thought turned me inward – dunked me beneath the surface of the present where I struggled to keep my breath as the past and future circled me like sharks with dead black eyes and blood-stained fangs. I was ready to betray anyone and deny any belief for the next breath of peaceful, safe air. The thoughts would pull up to the surface just as the sharks opened there jaws wide. I thanked the thoguhts, vocally, for doing so. I dare say I may have been the crazy babbler on Sunset Blvd this week. It seems anyone can be, if they hang out on it long enough.
On Thursday, I headed to the beach at Santa Monica, with dim hope that it would slow my brain down. It was a hot day, the city was blurred by heat waves as I walked to the bus stop at Santa Monica and Western Blvds. The odor from all the grime on the sidewalk wafted upward, into the nostrils. The bus was 45 minutes late – everyone who waited for it seemed to be frowning, confusedly, and trying not to breathe to deep. People would look at each other, then look down, pressed against each other in the scarce shade – compressed isolation.
Except one man who stood straight and tall in a very nice, houndstooth suit and straw hat, wearing dark sunglasses, looking like a jazz player who’d long since come off the hard drugs and now played lucid and fearlessly, but played it slow even if he was playing fast. He was a nobleman in the sun as we pawns cringed in the shadows. He was sweating, but he was fine with it – nothing his handkerchief couldn’t handle. A few minutes later, a car stopped at the red light. The driver rolled down his window and shouted.
“Hey there!” replied the nobleman.
“PT passed away, man. Tuesday.”
“Yeah,” replied the nobleman, “I know. Bakersfield?”
The nobleman mimicked shooting a pistol, then held up his hands, questioningly. The man in the car shook his head, affirming. The nobleman shook his head, looked down Santa Monica Blvd, then turned back to the man in the car.
“Well, alright, then. I’ll see you at the funeral.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” replied the driver. Then the light turned green and he drove off.
As we were boarding the bus, a lady and a man – carrying duffle bags – approached the bus stop. They appeared to be arguing. Suddenly, the lady threw her bag in the street. Then she ran out in the middle of the street and – like a matador – waited for an oncoming pick-up truck. The driver swerved to miss her, but the lady ran to the truck and punched its mirror – breaking it -as the truck passed her. “F#$k you!” she shouted, then grabbed the duffle and jumped on the bus. The man boarded the bus, too.
“I tell you,” she shouted to everybody aboard – the man eyed her from the other end of the bus, “I ain’t mad at myself, well I’m always mad at myself but he don’t need to know that! I’m tired of him! Shit…he ain’t gonna know I’m gone ’til I am.”
The man came toward her. “I’m right here, you didn’t get rid’a me.”
The lady stood, pushed through the crowded bus, toward him. “Ah, yeah, then…well we gettin’ off now and it’s goin’ down!”
“You makin’ a damn fool of yourself,” said the man.
“I don’t give a f#$k!” The bus stopped at Vine St. “We gets off right here! Come on…it’s about to blow, right now.”
As soon as they got off the bus the woman threw down the suitcase and started wailing on the man, who tried to act cool at first, then started giving a little back. Several men in the bus looked out the window, egging the couple on, careening their necks to get a last look as the bus pulled away. By the next stop it was as if the couple never existed – erased off the record. The rest of us settled in for the 90 minute ride to the end of the country. Hollywood, then West Hollywood, then Beverly Hills, then…
“Listen,” a man said into his phone, as we passed through Century City, “I don’t wanna be with someone who doesn’t wanna be with me, you know. Yeah? Well here’s the irony, I thought I things were getting better…yeah, well I tried but you know that trying is what lead to my silence…whoah, whoah, whoah…let’s not confuse the two issues, here…she can be thankful, it’s money, afterall, you know…(long pause)…ok, well me too…as long as we can both be thankful for our gestures. Yeah…well…tell her money leaves a bad taste in my mouth, too.”
I made it to the beach late – after four o’clock – so it wasn’t crowded. Bums lay, sprinkled about the sand, sleeping or staring into the seventh or eighth dimension – far away from the crowds on the shoreline, where people nuzzled together in the cooling early evening, read books, or wandered in ankle deep water – smiling, laughing. I set my towel and bag down on the sand ran into the water
Clouds had begun to roll in, dropping the tempurature on the beach by at least 10°. The air brought on chills, so I wandered out to shoulder deep water to shield myself from the wind. There, I lifted my feet and let myself rise and fall with the swells. Some pelicans convened on a cluster of rocks, several yards out. Wing to wing, they managed to stay on the rock. Every now and then – as if on shifts – one pelican would fly off and another would land in its place. The pelicans would fly straight up, stall in mid-air, then open their wings wide and dive straight down and stab at the water for food with such fearless and natural precision.
The swells grew higher as the evening progressed. I paddled lazily to keep my head above water – all the while, facing the ocean, letting my fast thoughts go and go and go. When I turned around and faced the beach, I was surprised to find that I’d drifted quite some distance form the shore. My towel was only a little blue dot on the beach. Human beings were tiny figures in the sand. I could make out arm and leg movements, but no facial expressions. I couldn’t hear anything coming back from the shore, either. The beach – and LA, America, Western Civilization – shrunk smaller and smaller with each rising swell. It felt as if I could keep on floating as long as I wanted. More so, it felt like floating was the right idea – the natural state. And I wasn’t floating away from anything. No, I was floating to something, the big thing, with fearless precision….like the pelicans.
The first wave broke and rolled me over several times. I reached out – frantically – for the surface or the ocean floor. I finally found the surface and took a breath just before another wave pummeled me, extending my legs over my back. All my air went out and I sucked in saltwater, sand. I regained my ground, shook my head, opened my eyes just in time to see another wave breaking over me. I ended up on my knees, gagging, thirty feet closer to the shore. I looked at the people on the beach – saw their faces. Some noticed me, but most didn’t. But all carried on with what they were doing.
All sound came back – the human chatter, the pelican squawks, and the evening waves roared as they broke and dissolved into brutal frothy energy. I went back out again and again. For well over an hour I let the big waves knock me around. By the end, my eyes were burning, my throat was sore from salt, my legs and arms were jello. It was exhausting, taking on the relentless force of nature. But it felt good to be pummeled by something real.
A real pleasure to read.